Fruit for the Month: February

Young blueberry plant in snow. Photo Bridget Aleshire

We are in the dormant period for most fruits, with really none to harvest, although this is a good month to eat stored and preserved fruit.

Depending on your climate, you could start to plant new fruit bushes and canes, and whether you do that or not, there is plenty to prune and care for.

Blueberries are the Focus Fruit for February

Harvest blueberries in June in the mid-Atlantic. Photo Small Farm Central

Blueberries were also the Focus Fruit for June, when I wrote about harvesting them, and about the differences between Rabbiteyes, Northern Highbush and Southern Highbush types, and about planting. If you are about to buy plants, let me remind you that we have bought good plants from Finch Blueberry Nursery in Bailey, North Carolina, as well as from a more local source in SW Virginia (now retired). If you only want a few plants, buy potted blueberry plants locally. Otherwise, order bareroot plants shipped to you. In Virginia Edible Landscaping offers a wide choice.

Growing Blueberries

Blueberry bush with buds in March. Photo Pam Dawling

It used to be a tradition here, that the first garden shift of the year, in late January or early February, after the winter break, was spent pruning blueberries. During December and January, only a few people were working in the gardens, harvesting hardy crops, and tending to the hoophouse and greenhouse. Once the rest of the crew returned, we cleaned, sharpened and oiled the pruners, and set to work.

We have two patches of blueberries, both Highbush, despite being in a climate where you might expect Rabbiteyes to do better. The older patch has four rows of eleven bushes, which have been growing there since before 2007. Mostly we don’t know the names of these varieties. We have replanted to fill gaps over the years, and each spring we have logged how they are doing, whether they are early or late, productive or not, small or large berries, delicious or OK.

Young blueberry plant protected for winter with mesh.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

The newer patch was planted in November 2007, with 4 plants each of five varieties, planted in two rows in the order we expected them to ripen: first Duke, then Spartan, Bluecrop, Chandler and Aurora. The Duke variety has by far been the best, both productive and tasty. The Spartan early on declared itself to not be suited to our location. We have digital records of this patch from 2016-2019. Probably we have paper records from 2007-2015. At the last count, we had 4 Duke, 1 Spartan, 6 Bluecrop, 3 Chandler and 6 Aurora. We have propagated Duke to replace casualties in the old patch.

If you are looking for good varieties for central Virginia, here’s what I gleaned from our notes:

  • Duke: Good strong, productive plants
  • Spartan: Not right for this area, didn’t thrive
  • Bluecrop: Did well initially, started to die out by 2016
  • Chandler: maybe earlier than Bluecrop, large berries.
  • Aurora: Very late, large berries, so-so flavor.

Blueberry Plan/Annual Calendar

Late January/February in a mild spell: Pruning (See Special Topic below)

Late January/early February:

  1. Weed
  2. Add soil amendments such as sulfur, if soil test indicates a need.
  3. Add compost
  4. Renew mulch: Rake remains of old mulch aside first. Double cardboard, then replace old woodchips and top up to 3” with new woodchips or sawdust. The new patch had landscape fabric underneath at first, but that was removed, so it now needs double cardboard and new chips, just like the old patch.
  5. Plant new bushes to replace casualties.
  6. Repair fencing if needed.

Early Spring (April? March if there’s a drought):

Check irrigation and start irrigating twice a week. Weed.

Late Spring (May):

  1. Old patch – tackle Nut Sedge by several repeated cultivations with rakes or hoes when nut sedge is 3-4” tall.
  2. When flowers are setting fruit, install the roof netting.
Blueberry netting on hoops.
Photo Bridget Aleshire



Summer (August):

Weed. After harvest, remove and store the roof netting, check perimeter fencing.

Fall (September/October/November):

Prepare new area if needed. Plant new bushes in November (or wait till Feb)

Weed, spread compost, mulch, take soil tests.


Pruning young blueberries.
Photo Lori Katz

Special Topic for February: Prune Blueberries


Late January/February in a mild spell:

1-2 year old bushes: remove all flower buds (the plump round ones). Remove tiny weak shoots and leave a sturdy bush.

General, all ages: Remove all dead, diseased, damaged and dying wood.

  1. Decide whether to propagate. To layer a low-lying branch, scrape the bark on the underside, pin it down to the ground with a 6” wire staple, weight the pin down, and flag it. Layering has been much more successful for us, but it is possible to make hardwood cuttings, with 3-5 buds hardwood sticks (not flowering tips), and root these.
  2. Remove cross-overs, low-lying branches, branches heading for the center of the bush, branches hitting the roof of the netting.
  3. For young bushes, up to 4-years old, that’s all the pruning you do. Aim to leave a sturdy, healthy bush. Focus on removing spindly stuff. For older bushes, continue with step 5 onwards.
  4. Count the thick old trunks bigger than 1.5” diameter, divide by 5 and saw out this many, at ground level, (unless it would leave fewer than 6). Choose the oldest, scaliest, darkest ones for removal.
  5. Remove any spindly growth, tangled clusters.
  6. Remove a portion of the younger stems, to leave a balance. The ideal is something like 20% less than 1” diameter, 60% 1-2”, 20% larger than 2” diameter.
  7. Bear in mind that the fruit buds are plump – don’t remove more than 50% in total, but don’t fret about removing up to this number. If the bush carries too much fruit, berries will be small, branches break and bush reserves get depleted.
Layering a blueberry branch to propagate a new bush.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Here’s information from Pruning Blueberries in Small Fruit in the Home Garden from Virginia Extension

“Until the end of the third growing season, pruning consists mainly of the removal of low spreading canes, and dead and broken branches. As the bushes come into bearing, regular annual pruning will be necessary. This may be done any time from leaf fall until before growth begins in the spring. A mature blueberry plant should produce three to five new canes per year.

During pruning, clean out old, dead wood, and keep the three best 1-year-old canes. Locate the oldest canes and prune out one of every six existing canes; cut as close to the ground as possible. A mature blueberry bush should have 10 to 15 canes: two to three canes each of 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old canes (fig. 3).”

Figure 3

Figure 3. Left, unpruned blueberry plant. Right, after
pruning, a mature blueberry bush should have 10 to 15

Blueberry flowers.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

More Blueberry Resources:

  1. Blueberry Production Guide (NRAES-55) 1992, Pritts and Hancock
  2. NRAES-055_ePub.epub   (10.54Mb)
  3. Cornell 2022 Organic Production and IPM Guide for Blueberries, Carroll and Pritts
  4. Strik, B.C., D. Bryla, and D.M. Sullivan. 2010. Organic Blueberry Production Research Project. eOrganic article.

Other small fruits still available in February

Dried and frozen fruits, jams, jellies, chutneys, other preserves, or even stored apples and pears come into their own this month. Pawpaws can be eaten frozen like ice cream. Don’t eat the skins, and don’t eat cooked pawpaws, or you may get Tummy Trouble.

Wintergreen berries persist on the plants in the wild all winter, but don’t taste good at the end of the winter, though, so do a taste-test before harvesting lots. If you are allergic to aspirin, avoid wintergreen because all parts of the plant contain methyl salicylate, an aspirin-like compound.

Other fruit care in February in the mid-Atlantic

Summer-fruiting raspberries: cut out old canes (last year’s fruiting canes), Thin new canes (that didn’t bear fruit last year) to 6 per foot of row (ie at least 2” apart). Weed. Water.

Fall raspberries: Prepare future new beds. Plant new canes with compost. Mulch around them. Set new T-posts for trellising once the new canes start growing. In existing beds, cut all last year’s canes to the ground and dig up canes from aisles. Weed, compost, mulch.

Don’t let this happen to you: A frosted strawberry flower with a black center.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Strawberries: Remove any winter hoops, polypropylene rowcover or slitted plastic and clips. Plant a new replacement bed if not done in August or September. Restore paths if needed. Weed. Compost if none in August. You could keep the rowcover handy for the flowering period, to cover in frosty weather. Or you could pack it away while you tidy up the beds and paths, and get it out again once you see flowers.

Rhubarb: Weed, compost around the plants, or where you think the plants are! Mulch if not already done in the fall

Grapes: Weed. Spread compost. Install irrigation. Prune: 50 buds per vine. Prepare sites for new vines.


Storage Vegetables slide show, Diversify your vegetable crops slideshow again

Well, we are getting back on the horse/bicycle after being hacked, and hoping to return to normal. Here is my other presentation from the SSAWG conference: Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales.

And in case you missed last week’s post before it got attacked, here’s Diversify Your Vegetable Crops again:

The three presentations I gave this past weekend at the PASA Conference can be found at SlideShare. Click the link to get directly to the first of the pages with my presentations on it, or go to the SlideShare site and put my name or that of the presentation you want in the search box. I presented Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish, Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops and Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests

Dealing with the hack has taken a lot of time and energy, so this post will be short. Today has been unseasonably warm, and atypically windy. We have been pruning blueberries, preparing raised beds and harvesting spinach, leeks and garlic scallions, our first “new” crop of 2017. Usually I reckon on starting to harvest these March 1st, but they have grown a lot recently. They are about 6″ tall. A very flavorful fresh taste for this time of year (the Hungry Gap) when we mostly get leafy greens and stored roots.

Simply set aside all the tiny garlic cloves when you do your main planting, prepare a series of furrows close together. Tumble in the cloves, shoulder to shoulder, any way up. Cover the furrows, mulch over the soil and wait for early spring. When the garlic scallions are at least 6″ tall, start digging them up. Use them raw if you are inclined, or chop and cook them in omelets, stir-fries, soups, anywhere you’d like the taste of garlic. Pow!

Garlic scallions in April.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Snow, no electricity, now rain!

Our Herb Garden emerging from the snowCredit Bridget Aleshire
Our Herb Garden emerging from the snow
Credit Bridget Aleshire

What’s new in the garden? Not much! We got snow last Tuesday night, at least 7″. That’s a lot for us, especially in March. Then on Wednesday morning the power went out. Lots of trees and limbs fell on powerlines. I was part way through preparing a slide show on Sustainable Farming Practices for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Farm School for new and beginning farmers and ranchers. No chance of doing that. Or of gardening.

So I went to help our Dairy Crew hand milk five Dutch Belted cows. Usually they are machine-milked. Most people are not adept at hand-milking, so the job can take a long time. But I hand-milked a couple of Jersey cows at a community I was part of in England years ago, and milked goats at another. Hand-milking is one of those skills you don’t forget. Although my shoulder and arm muscles did complain! In between milkings I read a lot. I made use of my solar lantern from d.light, which had been sitting on my windowsill, waiting to be needed.  Back in November I bought several of their smallest model (S2, $13.95) and gave most of them as gifts. 10% of the net proceeds of online purchases go to their Give Light Program, which provides solar lanterns to kids without electricity. They’re built to be easy to use as a flashlight or a task light or desk lamp in the fields or the home. The first evening I was able to use it for 3 hours! Next day, I can’t believe I forgot to put it back on the windowsill! Sigh!

Young Blueberry bush in snowCredit Bridget Aleshire
Young Blueberry bush in snow
Credit Bridget Aleshire

As the snow started to melt, we were able to do some garden tasks. We’ve been pruning blueberries, redcurrants and grapes. Sunday and Monday were warm and melted most of the snow, but today it’s raining again. When will we ever get any tilling or disking done? We have planted absolutely no new crops yet this year! We scratched two beds of carrots from our spring plans, because we still have plenty of stored carrots, and we need to reduce the (theoretical) work load. Well, it’s a real work load, but theoretical while we can’t do it. Today I decided to scratch the bed of fava beans as 3/14 is our last date for planting here in central Virginia. Next to go will be the onions, if we can’t get to them soon. Bulbing of onions is controlled mostly by daylength (and a bit by temperature, which has been lower than usual). Soon they will start to make bulbs even if they are still in their seedbed in the hoophouse. Our last date for transplanting kale and collards is 4/1. I’m starting to think about scratching some of those. We won’t be able to make up for all the lost time, and there’s no point in doing a load of work for what, by then, could be a very short-lived crop. In May it gets hot and kale and collards start to bolt. Mid-June is the latest they ever survive. We’d do better focusing on our broccoli and cabbage.

Enough moaning! Time to get back to work preparing for the Farm School presentation and the Virginia Festival of the Book. Come and see me Thursday March 21 at 6-7pm at the downtown public library, Charlottesville, Virginia. I’ll be on the Locavore Panel with Jackson Landers. See my Festival of the Book post at the top of my blog page.

Twin Oaks Garden Task List for February

Greenhouse interior with early spring seedling flats.Photo Kathryn Simmons
Greenhouse interior with spring seedling flats.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

PlanningWeek 1:  Revise Crop Planting Quantities chart, Perennials worksheet, Harvest and Food Processing Calendars, Veg Finder, and Phenology Chart. Week 2:  Revise Fall Brassicas Spreadsheet, Onion Plan and Log, Sweet Potato Plan. Revise and post Paracrew Invitation. Week 3: Write Seed Saving Letter. Revise Blueberry Map and Log, Grape Map and Log. Week 4: Revise Crop Planting Specs sheet, revise Garden Planning Calendar, File notes, prune files.

Lettuce Factory: Sow lettuce #3, 4 in flats (short-day fast varieties, every 14 days).

Spread compost & till beds for spinach, beets, favas, lettuce, onions, little alliums, turnips, senposai, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, collards when soil dry enough.  Till beds for carrots 1-3, with or without compost.

#1 Spring Tractor Work  – Compost and disk areas for broccoli and potatoes when dry enough, or till.

Early Feb: in greenhouse sow: cabbage, collards, senposai, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli #1, celery, celeriac

Sow spinach outdoors if Jan sowings fail: 4oz/bed pre-sprouted. Transplant spinach from hoophouse [or flats].

Sow fava beans (seed is in peas bucket). Plant small potato onions if not done in January.

Mid-month: in greenhouse: Sow lettuce #3, and resow hoophouse peppers as needed. Spot cabbage, lettuce#3, hoophouse peppers, kale, collards, and harden off.

February pepper seedlings in the greenhousePhoto Kathryn Simmons
February pepper seedlings in the greenhouse
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Sow carrots #1 outdoors with indicator beets. Flameweed. Finish planting spinach, (direct sow if not enough transplants).

Buy seed potatoes mid-month and set out to greensprout (chit) before planting: 65°F (19°C) and light.

[Strawberries: plant new bought plants, if applicable.]

Late Feb, sow carrots # 2 (flameweed);

Really finish transplanting spinach. If needed, presprout 4oz/bed spinach for 1 week before sowing.

Till and sow areas for clover cover crops (eg grapes, eggplant beds), or oats, from 2/15.                    

Transplant fall-sown onions ½-3/4” deep, when no thicker than pencils. Weed over-wintered spinach, kale, collards.

In greenhouse sow broccoli #2 (2 weeks after 2nd), (shallots), lettuce #4, hoophouse cukes.

Perennials: Finish weeding. Give compost, if not done in fall, including strawberries and grapes.  See list for January.  Transplant bushes, canes, crowns if needed. Mulch. Finish pruning blueberries, ribes. Prune grapes before 3/21 – see last year’s log notes about replacement limbs needed, etc. Summer raspberries: cut out old canes. Install irrigation. Prepare sites for new grapevines, if needed.

Vates kale over-wintered Photo Twin Oaks Community
Vates kale over-wintered
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Harvest: (Chard?), collards, kale, spinach, leeks.